Feast Day of St. Luke
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19
I remember once having to sleep alone in an icy cold building under blankets that did not keep me warm. It was a long, wretched stretch of darkness. Wearing all the clothes I had brought with me: two pair of socks and my shoes, jeans, a shirt, a sweater and a windbreaker, I had wrapped the blankets around me and hoped for the best. I would doze for awhile, then wake when the cold seeped in. Rolling over and repositioning the blankets, I’d try again. The cold kept bleeding through, again and again. Getting up and walking around brought the feeling back into my extremities, but as soon as I lay down again I was miserable. I finally gave up and went outside to await the dawn.
The building was on a little highway in the California desert. It was colder outside than in, but not by much; there was no wind. Not knowing the landscape, I paced back and forth for what seemed like hours along the road, wrapped in my blankets and all my clothes. Finally the sky began to lighten.
When I see the street people here in Fort Collins make their way early in the morning from the hard, bleak places where they made their beds to the Mission, where they can get warm and have something to eat, I remember being cold. It is painful, demanding, and it changes all priorities. Good news for them would certainly mean that they could be warm, dry and fed. But there is a larger, deeper issue for any of us who find ourselves poor, captive, blind or oppressed, and that is whether we are valued.
I came out of that desert experience back to my life of privilege, where my talents are valued and my voice is heard. For the most part I do not have to endure a condescending altruism on the part of the community in which I make my home; I am respected. There aren’t many people who wonder what is the matter with me that I am living as I live. The majority of my interactions do not involve being either ignored or tossed a coin. On a regular basis I do not have to beg.
The good news of Jesus to the poor and oppressed is the news of esteem and belonging. This includes having warmth and food, but is not limited to those things. When he walked the planet Jesus was always reconnecting people to their community. “Go show the rabbis that you are clean,” he would say, meaning, “Go and reclaim your place in society.” “Your sins are forgiven,” he would say, and that carried the implication, “You are no longer an outcast, an undesirable.”
An ancient monastic practice is to look for Christ in everyone you meet. It’s a simple thing to try, but difficult to actually carry out: seeing past the circumstances of the people we run into to ask, “what could this person teach me if he or she were gracious enough to offer her or his wisdom?”
Though the sun came up a sort of watery yellow color in a perfectly empty sky on that desert morning when I was so cold, there has never been a more beautiful sunrise. The distant reaches of the desert turned mauve and russet as light crept toward me from the rim of the world. At first it didn’t make much difference to my misery, but then it touched me directly and began to warm me where I stood.
The kingdom of heaven is like this. It appears first in the distance as a glimmer of hope. Then slowly it takes command of the landscape, turning what was drab vibrant, creeping across the surface of the world, until finally it reaches each one of us and embraces us where we stand. We know in that moment how much we are loved, and how valuable we are.
Good news to the poor: release to captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed – the year of the Lord’s favor – this proclamation is the sun lifting into the sky. This reality is the kingdom of heaven. We are that kingdom’s heirs, filthy rich in every way that counts. We are the sons and daughters of the vastest, most opulent estate that exists, and God is the owner. Let us recognize one another as brother and sister in this inheritance, share our tables and our shelter, and above all value one another as God values us, as unique and irreplaceable children.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. She will soon manage a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries.